20 November 2010

Winfield's at it again

The Associated Press just published an article by Nicole Winfield titled, "Pope: condoms can be justified in some cases."

Before I comment on the article, let me first say that Ms. Winfield has a rather shotty track records at reporting accurately on things Catholic. You can explore my comments on her sloppy work here. Many times what she said in her articles has been shown to be completely false.

So, reader beware. And carry a very large salt shaker.

The text of her article follows, with my emphases and comments:

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict XVI says in a new book that the use of condoms can be justified in some cases, such as for male prostitutes seeking to prevent the spread of HIV.

The pontiff makes the comments in a book-length interview with a German journalist, "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times." The Vatican newspaper ran excerpts of the book Saturday.

Church teaching has long opposed condoms since they're a form of artificial contraception. The Vatican has been harshly criticized for its position given the AIDS crisis.

Benedict said that for male prostitutes — for whom contraception isn't a central issue — condoms are not a moral solution. But he said they could be justified "in the intention of reducing the risk of infection." [My initial concern here is that not a even a full sentence is used. Pope Benedict often thinks not in phrases, but in paragraphs. I should like to see the full context of the Pope's words.]

Benedict drew unprecedented criticism from European governments [perhaps it was unprecedented from governments, but not from others], international organizations and scientists in March 2009 when he told reporters while flying to Africa that condoms would not resolve the AIDS problem there but, on the contrary, increase it [and he is still correct on that]. The statement was condemned by France, Germany and the U.N. agency charged with fighting AIDS as irresponsible and dangerous [and it was also shown to be true by leading doctors while the governments could not disprove his words].

While opposition to condoms is a long-standing church position, the Vatican felt constrained to step in and say Benedict wanted to stress that a reliance on condoms distracted from the need for proper education in sexual conduct [I think the Supreme Pontiff is the one who actually speaks for "the Vatican." It should also be remembered that those wanted to "step in" did not encourage the use of condums].

Christian Weisner, of the pro-reform group We Are Church in the pope's native Germany, said it was "surprising, and if that's the case [again, let's see the full context so we can be certain of what he said, rather than having to rely on an unreliable reporter] one can be happy about the pope's ability to learn."

The pope also says in the new book that if a pope is physically, psychologically or spiritually incapable of doing his job, then he has the "right, and under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign." [What does this have to do with the article?]

A man of deep personal faith [there must be an insult coming], the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has alienated some Roman Catholics with his zeal in enforcing church orthodoxy.

He grew up in the conservative Alpine foothills of Bavaria and 78, he has become the 265th pope of the Catholic Church and the first Germanic pope since the 11th century.

Many in Germany blamed [rightly or wrongly?] Ratzinger for decrees from Rome barring Catholic priests from counseling pregnant teens on their options [by which Winfield must mean abortion] and blocking German Catholics from sharing communion with their Lutheran brethren at a joint gathering in 2003 [that hasn't been allowed for nearly 500 years].

He also clashed with prominent liberal and moderate theologians [Oh no! Still, what has this to do with the article? Methinks someone is simply filling space to make it look like there is a story here].

In his autobiography, Ratzinger said he sensed he was out of step with his fellow Germans as early as the 1960s, when he was a young assistant at the Second Vatican Council in Rome.

Ratzinger wrote that he was enrolled in the Nazi youth movement [Frankly, I'm surprised it took her so long to mention this. But again, what has this to do with the article?] against his will when he was 14 in 1941, when membership was ompulsory. He said he was soon let out because of his studies for the priesthood [Why is there no mention that his enrollment was mandatory and that he was enrolled just as every other German child was? Why is there no mention that he did not attend the meetings?].

Two years later he was drafted into a Nazi anti-aircraft unit as a helper, a common task for teenage boys too young to be soldiers. He deserted the German army in April 1945, re-entered the seminary and was ordained, along with his brother, in 1951. He then spent several years teaching theology. In 1977, he was appointed bishop of Munich and elevated to cardinal three months later by Pope Paul VI [Again, what has any of this to do with the article?].

John Paul II named him leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981, where he was responsible for enforcing Catholic orthodoxy and was one of the key men in the drive [is that a reference to Obama's car analogy?] to shore up the faith of the world's Roman Catholics.

Ratzinger who speaks Italian, English as well as his native language German, has been called a subtle thinker with a deep understanding of Catholic tradition and a personal touch he's not often given credit for [He's not given credit for his personal touch by the likes of Winfield and her fellow reporters. But, again, what has this to do with the article?].
I will not comment one way or the other at this time on what the Pope, simply because I do not have access to the book.

I'm certain a few of the prominent bloggers have advanced copies of the book and will soon be commenting on the passage in question. When they do, I'll pass the links along.


11/20/2010, 12:27 p.m. (CT): Deacon Khandra links to an article from the AFP that provides bit more context to the Pope's words (with my emphases and comments):

In a series of interviews published in his native German, the 83-year-old Benedict is asked whether "the Catholic Church is not fundamentally against the use of condoms."

"It of course does not see it as a real and moral solution," the pope replies.

"In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality," said the head of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics.

The new volume, entitled "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times", is based on 20 hours of interviews conducted by German journalist Peter Seewald.

Until now, the Vatican had prohibited the use of any form of contraception -- other than abstinence -- even as a guard against sexually transmitted disease [so far there is no reason to claim the Holy See has lifted this prohibition].

Benedict sparked international outcry in March 2009 on a visit to AIDS-ravaged Africa when he told reporters the disease was a tragedy "that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems."

To illustrate his apparent shift in position, Benedict offered the example of a male prostitute using a condom.

"There may be justified individual cases [moral theology has already recongized that, in certain specific and extreme cases, where a person is in what is called "invincible ignorance," they can be justified; even so, the use of a condom is still objectively evil, though a person may not be culpable of sin. This is nothing new], for example when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be ... a first bit of responsibility, to re-develop the understanding that not everything is permitted and that one may not do everything one wishes," Benedict was quoted as saying.

"But it is not the proper way to deal with the horror of HIV infection."

Benedict reiterated that condom use alone would not solve the problem of HIV/AIDS. "More must happen," he said.

"Becoming simply fixated on the issue of condoms makes sexuality more banal and exactly this is the reason why so many people no longer find sexuality to be an expression of their love, but a type of self-administered drug."
11/20/2010, 12:37 p.m. (CT): John Allen weighs in on the issue here. In brief, Allen says:

While that position is hardly new, in the sense that a large number of Catholic theologians and even a special Vatican commission requested by Benedict XVI have endorsed it, this is the first time the pope himself has publicly espoused such a view.

The comments do not yet rise to the level of official church teaching, but they do suggest that Benedict might be open to such a development.
11/20/2010, 1:28 p.m. (CT): Father John Boyle has an interesting - and correct - take on the so-called story:

No real story. What the Church has always opposed and still opposes is contraception. Since there is no conception to to be "contra'd" when two men commit sodomy, there is no question of contraception involved.
11/20/2010, 1:51 p.m. (CT): Carl Olson provides a link to the entire excerpt of the Holy Father's words:

The media coverage completely ignored the rest of the trip to Africa on account of a single statement. Someone had asked me why the Catholic Church adopts an unrealistic and ineffective position on AIDs. At that point, I really felt that I was being provoked, because the Church does more than anyone else. And I stand by that claim. Because she is the only institution that assists people up close and concretely, with prevention, education, help, counsel, and accompaniment. And because she is second to none in treating so many AIDs victims, especially children with AIDs.

I had the chance to visit one of these wards and to speak with the patients. That was the real answer: The
Church does more than anyone else, because she does not speak from the tribunal of the newspapers, but helps her brothers and sisters where they are actually suffering
. In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.

As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to
show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is
understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being

There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

[Interviewer Peter Seewald:]Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.
Such as I suspected from the beginning. There is nothing new here.

11/20/2010, 1:56 p.m. (CT): Dr. Janet Smith weighs in on what the Pope really said. If brief, she says:

So is the Holy Father saying it is morally good for male prostitutes to use condoms? The Holy Father is not articulating a teaching of the Church about whether or not the use of a condom reduces the amount of evil in a homosexual sexual act that threatens to transmit HIV. The Church has no formal teaching about how to reduce the evil of intrinsically immoral action. We must note that what is intrinsically wrong in a homosexual sexual act in which a condom is used is not the moral wrong of contraception but the homosexual act itself. In the case of homosexual sexual activity, a condom does not act as a contraceptive; it is not possible for homosexuals to contracept since their sexual activity has no procreative power that can be thwarted. But the Holy Father is not making a point about whether the use of a condom is contraceptive or even whether it reduces the evil of a homosexual sexual act; again, he is speaking about the psychological state of some who might use condoms. The intention behind the use of the condom (the desire not to harm another) may indicate some growth in a sense of moral responsibility.
11/20/2010, 8:19 p.m. (CT): Jimmy Akin provides the best commentary yet on what the Pope said - and didn't say.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately, I fully expect some Catholics to repudiate what the pope has said about how preventing infection is, essentially, the lesser of two evils. Those folks have been hearing the "condoms are evil" line for so long that they will now try to be more Catholic than the pope and treat the scenario he has spun out as a case of situational ethics, rather than a recognition that sexual ethics is complex and that the preservation of human life is always a great good.

    Some Catholics--as well as Catholic bashers--like to pretend that the church's understanding of medicine, disease, and human psychology (e.g., human sexuality) never changes. While Benedict has not lifted the ban on loving married couples using a condom to make love during a fertile part of the month, he has indeed indicated that sexual ethics are complex and are not always best addressed in a legalistic manner. (That's the road I went down in my own blog post this afternoon; I even dared to suggest that the pope does have a minor progressive streak in him. My hunch is that the Catholic Answers crowd will be doing as much spinning on the pope's statement as any mainstream journalist.)